In this essay I will address the aspects of Dr Ringach’s two essays that I did not address in the previous essay. One of his essays did not specifically address my positions but was rather a broader an explanation of his position while the other addressed the research I referenced. I will also address the question: Why do scientists who claim to be basic researchers feel the need to constantly compare their animal-based research results to humans?
All in all I must admit I agree with his description of how science works. The disagreement comes when he claims, directly or indirectly, that animals are predictive models (see previous essay).
Dr Ringach asserts that many discoveries and breakthroughs were made possible because of research on animals. His rhetoric and examples are the customary ones used by those promoting the use of animals in research. However, he, along with others citing the same examples, offers no proof for the assertions. Until such proof is forthcoming I will not comment on them here, as I see no need to refute unsubstantiated claims. In science the burden of proof is on the claimant. (I am developing a web page to explore such claims, but currently the only past breakthrough discussed is penicillin. More will follow as I have time.)
As to the accusation that we offer a “mediocre presentation of dynamical systems and chaos” I can only suggest the reader decide for himself and state that the physicists who proof read the book disagree with Dr Ringach’s interpretation. And, yes, reading the book will offer the reader far more information than reading these essays (that’s why we wrote it).
Dr Ringach ends by asserting that science works. He is right.
He impugns me as a scientist based on my publications. I refer the reader to the following PubMed sites for my record of publishing 1 and 2. (I publish under and go by Ray Greek but my full name is Carl Ray Greek Jr and some papers are referenced under that name because of journal specifications.) Rather than get into a pointless (based on past experiences) discussion about who is and who is not a scientist and what does and what does not qualify as research, I will simply say that while we do not conduct research in a lab we do conduct research and publish our results. If this does not satisfy some, so be it. I have also participated in clinical research which, although not published as articles, was published as abstracts at anesthesiology conferences. Does any of that, along with my training make me a scientist? I think so, but then I might be biased.
It seems to me that Dr Ringach and I have fundamental disagreements on the following and these are what should be formally debated at UCLA, complete with moderator and a panel of judges/experts.
1. The prediction issue. I maintain that modalities, be they research modalities or medical tests or whatever, cannot claim to be predictive without a high positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predicative value (NPV). If anyone is going to claim that animal models of X or animal models per se are predictive for human response to drugs and disease then it is incumbent upon him to produce data showing a high PPV and NPV, or at least a high sensitivity and specificity. Using the word predict to describe any activity without first fulfilling this criteria is unscientific. OR, Dr Ringach can cite philosophy of science works (in part, what we are debating here is philosophy of science not biology per se) that prove I am wrong in my defintion of prediction as used in biomedical science.
2. What is the role of animal models if they are not predictive for humans? If the traditional definitions of basic research are correct (and I think they are) what I am really asking is “What role should or do animals play in basic biomedical research?” This is a question that Dr Ringach and I probably disagree on and that should be explored. During this debate the following question should be addressed: “Why does the basic research community feel the need to phrase everything they do in terms of human benefit when such results fall outside the purview of basic research?” In my opinion this can be summed up in one word: money. As I said in the last essay: Freeman and St Johnston in Dis Model Mech 2008:
Many scientists who work on model organisms, including both of us, have been known to contrive a connection to human disease to boost a grant or paper. It’s fair: after all, the parallels are genuine, but the connection is often rather indirect. DMM is about something quite different. This new journal is aimed at people who set out with an explicit goal to investigate human disease using model organisms. (1)
But we cannot debate this until we agree on the prediction issue. If, in his explanation of why animals are important in basic research, he claims that they are predictive for drug and disease research (as he has done), then we are right back at prediction. There is no way around it. Unless Dr Ringach wishes to state that animal models as used for drug and disease research are not predictive, then we can go straight to number 2.
3. Interchangeable with number 2 is the use of animals in specific areas of basic research such as neuroscience. I would like us to address the general role of animals in basic science before we address specific uses as the general area will allow areas of agreement to come forward, and they will, before we get down to specifics.
4. Finally we probably disagree about the importance of animal models in making past discoveries. I think this disagreement is not worth the effort of debating as the parallels between then and now are strained but if Dr Ringach wants to discuss the role of animals in the development of the polio vaccine, penicillin, heart surgery, or whatever I will oblige. But only after the prediction issue is debated.
If the above outline is followed we should be able to, before even the first debate, make a list of what we agree on. The list will be long. We both agree on the scientific method, on how science works and so forth. Building on that list we can then debate the topics and, hopefully, allow the audience to see very clearly where we agree and where we disagree. THAT would be beneficial to everyone. The debates could be recorded and put on the Internet as Dr Ringach graciously did for the panel discussion.
In these essays with Dr Ringach I have tried to explain why prediction is key to discussing other aspects of animal use. Perhaps I have failed. But unless we resolve this, I see us just going in circles in future essays.
1. Freeman M, St Johnston D. Wherefore DMM? Disease Models & Mechanisms 2008;1:6-7.